How A24 sold an adaptation of an epic – and convoluted – story.
(ed note: This should have been published last week, but life got in the way. Let’s move on…)
For a good long while it seemed like there was no movie film critics were more anticipating than director David Lowery’s adaptation of a 14th-century poem, The Green Knight. The movie, in theaters now after long Covid-related delays, stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur who enjoys the leisurely life instead of going out and making a name for himself with acts of heroism and bravery. When his mother summons the mysterious Green Knight to help him become the man he should be, it sets in motion a series of events that will send Gawain on a quest where his fate is uncertain.
The movie, which also stars Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton and others, has an impressive 90% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. While the campaign has been stop-and-start because of the aforementioned delays, it has also been consistent in selling a fantasy journey even if the story hasn’t always been clear to the casual viewer.
Just one poster (by marketing agency BOND) got out last February before the release was delayed. It shows a crowned Gawain from beyond, his head in stark contrast to the bright red background. Copy along both sides reads “When honor was everything. When courage made kings.” Both those help setup the story and setting while hiding the main character’s face helps to establish the character more than the actor.
The same design was used on a series of character posters released over a year later, in early May of this year. These showed the Lord, Lady and The Green Knight himself and playfully acknowledged the long delay with copy reading “One year hence”, which also ties into the story.
Gawane got his own poster that actually shows his face around the same time.
He stands seemingly triumphant – or at least defiant – on the final poster from mid-June.
We’re introduced to Gawain in the first trailer (5.6m views on YouTube) from February 2020 as someone who is out to prove himself and achieve greatness. To do that he will set out on an adventure that is fraught with danger, shown here as visions of terrible outcomes and fates that might befall him. All of that is communicated through the imagery of storytelling, specifically the kind of puppet show used to entertain children. It’s creepy, trippy and more than a little intriguing.
With the delays to the movie’s release it wasn’t until May 2021 that the second trailer (14m views on YouTube) came out. This one sells a much different story, one that is centered on Gawain’s quest to slay a creature he had faced before but which promised they would meet again one year later. That quest means he’s facing plenty of peril, has to rely on uncertain allies and is otherwise in a lot of danger.
Online and Social
You’ll find only basic information on A24’s page for the movie, but the social updates, both on a standalone profile and the studio’s, offered more context and background.
Advertising, Publicity and Promotions
While a premiere screening was initially announced for SXSW, when that festival was cancelled those plans were understandably thrown out the window. Lowery later admitted making that premiere date would have been difficult, but he also remained unsure at the time if the movie would get a theatrical release or eventually go straight to streaming or VOD.
A24 wound up punting the movie’s theatrical release date indefinitely in May, 2020.
While a new date was pending, the studio announced The Green Knight: A Quest for Honor, a tabletop game with a story set in the same world as the film. A promotional video showed off some of the game play.
A new release date was finally announced in March, with the movie scheduled to hit theaters almost exactly a year after it was originally intended to.
In late June a video was released with Ralph Ineson narrating a recap of the history of the epic poem the movie is based on as well as an overview of the story, though it’s still somewhat confusing.
Promos such as this began airing and running in mid-July. They didn’t offer much in the way of story, but continued to create a sense of mystery about the movie’s story. More traditional spots came out a bit later.
IGN debuted an exclusive clip of King Arthur asking his court for a good story of great deeds before the Green Knight himself comes in to interrupt the proceedings.
An exclusive clip at Fandango MovieClips picks up where the IGN clip left off, The Green Knight’s challenge being read aloud in King Arthor’s court.
Another clip shows the kind of life Gawain is leading before his fate catches up with him.
Just as the finish line seemed in view, news broke just last week that the release had been pulled from U.K. theaters. ‘
How Lowery filmed a key sequence in the film and how he subsequently refined it over the extended period afforded by the pandemic-related delays, was covered in an interview with the director.
Patel got the full profile treatment here, including how he’s been very selective about his roles over the course of his career.
Another interview with Lowery had the director talking about how he became aware of the source material, how he cast Patel and more.
Once the campaign got going a couple months ago it became a lot of fun. Until that point it was a tad on the dense and somewhat confusing side, not terribly so but certainly enough that casual fans might have given up on it.
In that way it presented one of the biggest challenges of all the films delayed during the pandemic. Not being part of a franchise or series meant there weren’t those easy hooks to hang audience interest on, so it couldn’t rely on a slow drip of word of mouth and press coverage.
On the whole it surmounted that challenge nicely, but likely without gaining much and who knows how much of the potential target audience from February 2020 is willing to head to the theater right now. Whatever the movie’s fate, though, the marketing can’t be blamed, especially when you put the mystery and tone created in the early elements in the context of Lowery’s career.